Sludge re-use and recovery promoted to stimulate the recovery of crucial minerals and nutrients

The EU Commission presented the proposal for a Directive amending the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD) to address the remaining sources of urban pollution on 26th of October. The proposal was communicated together with other initiatives, forming together the Zero Pollution package and aiming at scaling up efforts against pollution in accordance with the EU overarching goal of living in a toxic-free environment by 2050.

The fitness check of the proposal carried out in 2019 identified three set of issues requiring further assessment and action, which are:

  1. Remaining pollution from urban sources, since the Directive focused on pollution from domestic sources paying less attention to other sources of urban pollution, which are now becoming dominant and carry with them new emerging pollutants.
  2. Alignment to the European Green Deal, especially combating climate change by reducing GHG emissions and enhancing circularity by improving sludge management for the recovery of nutrient and possible valuable organic.
  3. Insufficient and uneven level of governance, with evaluation showing that operator’s performance and transparency differ significantly from one to another, thus demanding improvement in monitoring and reporting methods.

Particularly, the article on sludge management has been completely updated taking into consideration the advancements made in the technological sector since 1991. The new art. 20 (previously art. 14) of the Directive now includes recycling and recovery of sludge in accordance with the waste hierarchy laid down in the Waste Framework Directive and the requirements of the Sludge Directive, with the EU Commission having the mandate to set minimum rates to ensure high recovery of critical materials such as phosphorus. This is in line with the future EU Critical Raw Materials Act to tilt the balance of power in such supply chains, and also has implications for the soil health proposal, flagship initiative of the EU Soil Strategy 2030.

An 8-week public consultation on the adopted proposal was launched on 27 October 2022 to allow stakeholders to provide their feedbacks, which is scheduled to close on 23 December.